Hywel fawr jet stream

There are lots of things which make me happy. Is it the smell of home made bread in an oven warmed kitchen? Is it playing an unnecessarily long-winded game of Uno with the kids? Or is it getting them involved in the kitchen with food colouring and a sponge mix, whiling away a few hours to make this?

Rainbow Cake

Rainbow Cake

Perhaps is it sitting out in the evening sunshine, with a barbecue on the go, and a cold beer in hand?

That one ranks pretty highly actually.

All of those things which make me happy happened this weekend. Yeah, although I sometimes like to give the Welshman a bashing in my blogs, a long weekend away in the Brecon Beacons is one of the few perks I get from going out with someone whose balance oft becomes a daily liability, and whose sense of humour can be childishly inane.

Having lived in Cardiff, I know that Welsh weather can be tremendously shit. I’ll take this weekend’s glorious sunshine as a small life win and I’ll lift up my chilled Peroni and bid adieu to the jet stream which has festered around us for weeks like a bad smell.

My trip to Mid South Wales has given me a bit of blog fodder; it has made me want to write about working hard and what you can achieve from scratch with drive and talent. I wanted to write this post because although I am effectively giving a plug to the Welshman’s ma,  she is also a mighty fine baker and cook who has worked astonishingly hard to get her business to where it is today. Regardless of my connection with her, she deserves the recognition in this small humble blogpost (trust me, if she wanted to promote herself she could – she’s got an audience of several thousand Twitter followers). In the beginning she just made bread and cakes for friends, and with word being spread as quickly as the jam that buttered them, she quickly gained a reputation for melt-in-the-mouth Welsh cakes, flapjacks, juicy pork-filled sausage rolls, in addition to so many other things. Then the business started expanding, and for a while she catered for a local society, stood outside Crickhowell Market every Saturday come rain or rain (remember this is Wales), and catered for well-attended local events.

Then came Welsh Cakes Online. It does what it says on the tin, but you’ll have never had a Welsh cake like hers before, I can guarantee.

Deb’s Kitchen opened in March. Initially she’d wanted it to be just that, a kitchen shop; a place where you could pick up a light bite to take away and have a browse at kitchen utensils and equipment made by local traders. A few enquiries for a fresh coffee with their sausage roll, and a a couple of patio chairs later, Deb’s Kitchen is fast becoming the honey pot cafe of Crickhowell.

Deb’s business started off from home; long hours spent quite literally over a hot stove, 4am starts, midnight finishes. It all started in her home kitchen. Despite all the hard work that has, and still does go on, I love coming here. There’s fresh eggs from the chickens and in the corner and you can guarantee there’s leftovers waiting to be picked at on the family-sized table. The shelves alternate between clear glass containers of sultanas, dried coconut, demerara sugar, and family photos. Pots and pans hang from the ceiling; everything has its own space and is tightly packed in – I dare you to remove something – it’s like kitchen Jenga that Debs has perfected.

Free range eggs

Free range eggs

Country kitchen (with the cricket playing in the background, naturally)

Whenever I leave Wales I get an irrepressible urge to cook more at home, be more experimental, and just generally make more of an effort. Working can quite quickly shake that sort of idealism out of you. However, I do appreciate the time spent in here to give me that kick up the backside every three months. And let’s not forget, when you see a view like this for the past four days, with a cold beer in one hand, there’s no finer way to recharge.

A view from the Breacon Beacons

A view from the Breacon Beacons

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SW4 Clapham – Nardulli’s Ice Cream – local producer

It was snowing only a few weeks ago…what the hell has happened? I find myself without coat, in a skirt with a thin long-sleeved top, eating ice cream on Clapham Common. I’ve certainly picked the right day for it,  and by the taste of it, I’ve definitely picked the right ice cream.

Nardulli’s Ice Cream parlour sits conveniently opposite the common – going towards Clapham Old Town. On Sunday it was as busy as a summer’s day, albeit the beginning of March – I had to queue!

Nardulli Ice Cream

As you’d expect from an Italian gelateria they’ve got the whole shebang of flavours. I would say that the ones they offer are more classical than some of the weird and wonderful that I’ve tried on my imaginary vacations on the Italian riviera (I went to an ice cream parlour in Sardinia once – does that count?), but the shop is petite and we are in Clapham, lest we forget.

There’s still a comprehensive selection as you can see from the photo.

Among the flavours were coffee, cherry, pistachio, rum and raisin, chocolate, coconut, hazelnut, and several sorbets were available to cleanse the palate. I opted for cardamom flavour – not one I’ve tried before – and hazelnut. Two small scoops set me back a little over £2. Considering one cannot get a Mr Whippy 99 these days for, well, under a £1, I’d say you are in safe hands with Nardulli.

The first few licks of hazelnut were delightful; but like Bruce Bogtrotterafter a whole chocolate cake, one tends to feel a bit sickly. The cardamom was like chai. Delicately spiced and milky, it was a new and welcome taste experience.

Ice cream! Ice cream! We all scream for Nardulli's...

Nardulli's cherry ice cream

With summer on its way (18 degrees I hear on Thursday) Nardulli’s is going to be my frozen cream destination of choice.

 

Nardulli on Urbanspoon

SW9 Brixton – Ms Cupcake – local producers

I must admit, I like a pint. Liking pints over the years has taken me from pub to pub, and from a size 8 pair of jeans to a size I’m-not-telling.  It means that as I have skirted (waisted – wasted?) from pub to pub from Thursday Friday to Sunday, I have had to sit with my fellow pub-goers, watching the rugby, football, and putting the world to rights (in a most left-wing manner, of course). My fellow pub-goers have generally been men. I’m not talking romantic liaisons – just guy friends. When I go out to celebrate birthdays with said guy friends it nearly always involves a pub, and almost never involves buying him a present, or card.

The birthday currency with the highest exchange rate is a pint.

I can hear some of my close friends reading this (ahem) guffawing at the fact that I do have female friends. I do! And, I do socialise with them. Yes, yes, I really do! Such an occasion was this, that is obviously warranted my writing of a blogpost.

Celebrating her birthday on Wednesday was a dear female friend of mine. My close female friends always buy one another presents, and obviously, being the generous beer-swilling girl that I am, I happily reciprocate. But the question is; what to get the woman who has everything – including a Mulberry handbag (I am told this is valuable), without matching the value of said Mulberry handbag.

I decided the only thing that would be sentimental enough to make her blush and think well of me (and that I could afford), would be live candle-blowing shenanigans and a lovely bunch of flowers.

Cake was the order of the day.

Hell yes, I could have gone to Greggs the Baker and picked up some tooth-wrenchingly sweet iced cake that would have gone down reasonably well in a dark and noisy All Bar One (don’t judge me). But I didn’t.

The spirit of this blog is all about eating and buying local – supporting the people and businesses who  live and operate in the area that we do.

When you think of cake shops in Brixton, for me there is only one place which springs to mind: Ms Cupcake.

Dashing to the bastion of iced goods, I was met with a cabinet of colours and cupcakes which couldn’t look more at home than at a magazine photoshoot; photoshopped perfection. What did I choose?

Unfortunately no nut allergies among my girlie party meant that any cupcake could potentially be mine. I couldn’t tell you what was what, such was the choice. Fortunately the astute shop assistant knew that I meant business and quickly pointed out the most appropriate flavours:

Chocolate Chip

Red Velvet

Almond coconut cupcake

Rather messily, and because no one wanted to miss out, we chopped each into four to share between our now, quite tipsy, quartet. After eating them I slipped them a sly one…

THEY’RE VEGAN!

Yes to those in the know, Ms Cupcake, whose shop resides on Coldharbour Lane, sells sugary goods which are completely vegan.

Exclamation all around…but in truth no one gave a cherry on top. This was because Ms Cupcake’s vegan cakes – although they contain no butter, milk, eggs, nor animal products –  are quite simply everything you’d want in a cake. You can’t even tell that they’re vegan. Moist, and the fact their buttercream was bafflingly creamy, ensured they were devoured.

Thanks to Ms Cupcake for penultimately rounding a great girly night out. The ultimate round off was, of course, a cold pint of Estrella.

SW9 Brixton – The BreadRoom – Restaurant review

Homemade soup and artisan bread for £3? I can spend £3 in a Sainsbury’s Local on their not-so-appealing meal deals and come away hungrier than a pre-metamorphosing caterpillar. But this rare value is what attracted me to The BreadRoom cafe in Brixton Market; I could eat out for lunch at a very reasonably rate. In fact, I was pretty stuffed, but even if you wanted something more carbohydrate based, you’d still receive change from your fiver with one of The BreadRoom’s sandwiches.

At only £4 a sandwich, the list of fillings do not have the diversity of say, Rosie’s Deli Cafe, but gracing the menu are still the stalwart favourites; mozarella and pesto, parma ham, chicken, and cheddar slabs. Limited some might say, and perhaps a bit economical with the frills, but you’d have to be a bit fussy if your tastes were not accommodated. Quiche of the day and a salad also only came to £4, and on the saccharine front, cakes, pastries and baked goods sat out on the front bench waiting to be plucked like ripe fruit.

My soup was broccoli and coriander. Yes, broccoli and coriander. An alarming green colour (although I guess if it was supposed to be carrot and coriander, then I’d be slightly more alarmed), but definitely homemade nonetheless. Broccoli and coriander’s ring on the ears does not have quite the same familiarity as perhaps its aforementioned rooted cousin. Sometimes there is an ultimate, but not completely unavoidable tendency, to overcook any and every vegetable which finds its way into soup. You’ll know when broccoli is overcooked, it adopts like its fellow brassicas, a distinctive odour. The broccoli inhabiting my soup, was forgiveable, but not technically immune from this faint scent.

I ate it all which, considering the generous portion size, was a reasonable challenge; it was a wholesome and hearty dish most appropriate for a cold, hungry day. It was also quite thick; a little runnier would have dribbled down a bit better on my palate, but that’s personal taste. Another time and on a non-broccoli flavoured day, I’d come again. It’s nigh on impossible to get a fulfilling lunch for under a fiver in London. My accompanying bread was well toasted (and by that I do not mean burnt, just a little too dry; the doughy-ness beyond the external toasted crust had become a little dessicated).

The BreadRoom is a small and cosy affair which felt somewhat awkward when all the seats were full. I was afraid I was going to fling my spoon high into the air and straight onto the lap of my – very – proximal neighbour. It’s also the kind of place where personal noises are not welcome; that is probably the advice I’d give to my – very – proximal neighbour. Still, it was comfortable when the noisy diners left, and the generic lift music took a siesta.

I was impressed with their veritable selection of loose-leaf teas – there was not an imprisoned tea leaf in sight – and a fine selection including Moroccan mint, green tea and jasmine, and rooibos, among more traditional blends.

BreadRoom by name, and bread room by nature; all of their doughy offerings are baked with Shipton Mill Organic Flour – I assume this means it is good? Apparently the baker also creates his own sourdough liquid for  a selection of the breads which are available to purchase as individual loaves.

The BreadRoom is a cafe which doesn’t convey quite the right atmosphere to make you want to linger for a long lunch. It misses the personal touch. From the matching barstools to the god-awful tables, there’s a sense of ‘eat lunch and be done’. However, I was full, and full of homemade value-for money soup, which ensured my Scottish tight-waddedness didn’t not rear its ugly head. And with that I was happy.

My food week in pictures – Real ale, Eggs Royale, and a sandwich

It’s been a funny old week: it’s not often you spend your Thursday drinking pints of Hip Hop Green Bullet at a real ale festival, nor do I want my Fridays to be quite so bleary-eyed! But yes, for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that the Battersea Beer Festival was on this week. I wrote a guest post for www.lavenderhill.co.uk about the event which you can see here. It was a great opportunity to meet some local producers (I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Duncan Sambrook – yes –  founder of Wandsworth’s Sambrook’s Brewery), and some drunken German chap from Munich who kept telling me that is 9% abv German beer was “lekker”. I took his word for it. Here are a selection of photos of the main event which I think you’ll enjoy. There’s also a few more on my Facebook page.

Less about liquid now and more about solid food. After a brief stroll around Brockwell Park on Sunday I popped into the nearby Lido Cafe for a spot of brunch. They were closing early so I was lucky to get my hands on their Eggs Royale. Perfectly runny yolk oozed itself over the beautifully tender salmon, which comes from the Severn estuary, and is traditionally smoked by the Severn and Wye Smokery. The Lido Cafe would be a venue I’d love to review, but unfortunately it’s just the wrong side of the SW postcode. Rules is rules!

And finally, before I sign off, you should check out this week’s review of Rosie’s Deli Cafe – and here’s what I ate:

SW9 Brixton – Rosie’s Deli Cafe – Restaurant Review

London is a lonely place.

Perhaps I should clarify that; OK, north London is a lonely place; maybe it’s because the number of people I know above the Thames is a relative quantity – rather like the amount of shrimp you get in a £1 Tesco prawn sandwich – relatively nothing. London is labelled as a lonely place, but you don’t have to let it be, especially south of the Thames. As I sit here, in south London, in the Borough of Lambeth, in Brixton, in Market Row, in Rosie’s Deli Café, I feel that essentially I am not alone (she says, eating her solitary lunch). My point is, I could strike up a conversation with the guy on his day off, reading the 900-page novel sat opposite me. I could start talking to the girl wearing the snood typing on her laptop to my left, or even the guy wrestling noisily with a chair, whose padded cushioning won’t quite sit straight. Why don’t I talk to them? Well, that’s because I’m furiously typing away at this review. My point is, we all have something in common, and that is, we are sat in Rosie’s Deli Café.

Writing a review of a café probably shouldn’t start like this. Nor should it start if you’ve had nothing to eat all day, save a Burger King coffee (one of those powdered all-in-one jobbies), partnered with a client meeting where all we did was discuss flatbread and tandoor cooking – delicious – but not helpful.

It’s 12.59pm. I’m hungry.

On the chalk-board menu which stands out on the pre-school grass-green wall, is an array of sandwiches – all of which tempt me like a vulture hovering over a zebra carcass (note to self: less carrion-based meat metaphors in restaurant reviews). A mackerel pate and tomato sandwich catches my eye, as does the Capocollo and aubergine ‘generous salad’ (I’m not suggesting it isn’t generous: Rosie’s words, not mine); but then the hummus and antipasti will definitely float my boat. I vote for a goat’s cheese and onion marmalade ciabatta. I fear the standard bread sandwich, as opposed to the ciabatta: not because I think it won’t sate my hunger, but because very often their breaded partitioning almost certainly consists of crap bread. But as I move seats to make way for a mamma and baby, I face the prep area and a bouncy, brown, and flour dusted loaf sits alongside its partner-in-crime knife. I needn’t have worried.

My ciabatta arrives, warm. It’s well toasted but with a great deal of give as I bite in. The layer of bread which borders the filling is really moist, and much welcomed, as goat’s cheese can occasionally have that dryness, which only a pastey cheese can have. The cheese is sour and soft – and strong, but the marmalade, as you’d expect, sweetens the blow – but can I say, it’s not too sweet. Many an onion marmalade has befallen these crimes. In fact, I’d go as far to say it could do with a thicker layer but maybe that’s just me. Spinach adds the crunch – thank god it’s not rocket – bit of a pet peeve of mine. Why sandwich vendors feel they can add £1.50 to the shittest sandwich on earth because it has rocket, disgusts me. While we’re on peeves, why do people insist on serving things on top of napkins on their plates? The napkin goes on my knee, not underneath my food. Rosie was guilty of this, but I’ll let it go. If anyone can enlighten me, I’ll happily redact the above sentence.

People drop in and out, there’s a takeaway option, a mixed clientele, old, young, fat, thin. I saw them all. You’d be welcome here. It’s a homely-looking place – rather like a room-sized version of somebody’s pantry; there are tins and jars, cardboard boxes, and crockery. The hotchpotch chairs remind me of year eight in art class, and a token library of foodie books and classics looks like a book exchange (I don’t think they are, so don’t take them because I said that). I feel like I’m in someone’s house.

I want to order more, but I’m not going to. I’ll save it for another time – I want to come back here. It’s somewhere that I’d like to support, not that it needs it; it’s busy, and Rosie seems to have made this part of London, her part of London, a much smaller place.

And they play Joan Armatrading.

Rosie's Deli Cafe on Urbanspoon